2011 1st-Round Draft Grades

1. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton – QB – Auburn – 6th rated QB/99th overall
This was huge risk for the Panthers, and both GM Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera are putting their reputation on the line. There’s no denying Newton’s raw talent, but being an elite quarterback takes so much more than athletic ability and arm strength. How many of the elite quarterbacks in the league have truly elite raw physical tools? Peyton Manning qualifies, but what about the others? Brady? No. Brees? No. It’s all about accuracy and work ethic, and there are concerns about Newton in both areas. In the 3rd or 4th round, I could understand taking a chance on him as a developmental guy with a high ceiling, but 1st overall? It’s just insane. Grade: F
I would have taken: Patrick Peterson

2. Denver BroncosVon Miller – LB – Texas A&M – Top rated LB/7th overall
Obviously I like Miller, but I’m not crazy about this selection. He is a linebacker/end ‘tweener and I’m just not quite sure how he’ll fit into John Fox’s 4-3 defense. The Broncos have stated they’ll use him primarily as a strong-side linebacker, presumably as a pass rusher at least 75 percent of the time, but this is a high pick to spend on a guy who will essentially be a situational player. With Patrick Peterson and Marcell Dareus still on the board, it’s hard to get too excited about the pick, but they also could have done a lot worse. Grade: B
I would have taken: Patrick Peterson

3. Buffalo BillsMarcell Dareus – DE – Alabama – Top rated DT/5th overall
Hard to argue too much the the selection of Dareus here. He played end in Alabama’s 3-4 defense and will step right into the same position in Buffalo. Dareus and nose tackle Kyle Williams give the Bills two young building blocks in the front seven who should be around for a number of years. And if Alex Carrington, their 2010 3rd round pick, continues to develop they could have an elite defensive line – which is the first step to creating a dominant 3-4 defense. Grade: A-
I would have taken: Patrick Peterson

4. Cincinnati BengalsA.J. Green – WR – Georgia – Top rated WR/3rd overall
I had Green ranked 3rd on my draft board, so obviously I can’t argue with the selection too much. But one thing that concerns me here is the Bengals motivation. Did they take Green because they felt he was the best player, or did the take him in an effort to persuade Carson Palmer to reconsider his trade ultimatum? We’ll never know the answer, but if they altered their draft board due to Palmer’s demands, it was a poor decision. Never let players dictate your draft moves. But as far as Bengals draft picks go, they’ve done much, much worse in the past. Grade: A-
I would have taken: Patrick Peterson

5.  Arizona CardinalsPatrick Peterson – CB – LSU – Top rated CB/Top rated overall
This is why Cardinals GM Rod Graves is one of the most underrated in the business. When an elite player is on the board he throws need out the window and gets the most talented player.  If Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie regains his form from two years ago, he and Peterson will form a truly elite tandem in the secondary in Arizona. This was the best pick of the 1st round in my opinion. Anytime you can get the draft’s best player at No. 5, you’re doing just fine. Grade: A+
I would have taken: Peterson

6. Atlanta FalconsJulio Jones – WR – Alabama – 2nd rated WR/11th overall
The Falcons gave up an awful lot to move up for a guy who will be a No. 2 receiver in their offense. It isn’t a huge reach to take Jones here, but it doesn’t fill a glaring need and they gave up next year’s 1st-round selection to make the move. That said, they made the move with the Super Bowl in mind and if Jones puts them over the top and turns them into a truly elite team in 2011 then it’s hard to argue with the selection. They obviously felt they needed another receiver in order to make that leap, and the drop-off after Jones was significant. Grade: B
I would have taken: Jones

7. San Francisco 49ers - Aldon Smith – LB – Missouri – 6th rated DE/16th overall
Many assumed the 49ers would take Gabbert here, but Jim Harbaugh wants to keep his options open for next year. He knows they won’t be a Super Bowl contender, so if he’s in position to potentially land Andrew Luck in 2012, he wants to keep that option open. So while I don’t fault them for passing on Gabbert, Smith is a bit of a reach. He is more of a developmental prospect than I’d like in the top 10 and also too much of a one-dimensional pass rusher. A top-10 pick should start right away, and I’m not convinced that Smith will beat up Parys Haralson. He has 10+ sack potential, but it may take time to get there. Grade: C+
I would have taken: Prince Amukamara

8. Tennessee TitansJake Locker – QB – Washington – 5th rated QB/74th overall
Jake Locker as the arm strength and athleticism of John Elway and the accuracy of J.P. Losman. I would have had no problem with someone rolling the dice on Locker in the 3rd round, but absolutely nothing about his college career indicates that he is worthy of a 1st round pick. On top of that, Tennessee may be the worst possible destination. Unless they bring in a veteran, or decide to extend the Rusty Smith era, Locker will be thrust into a starting role from day one. As we saw in Washington, Locker doesn’t learn on the fly. He started as a freshman in Washington and made minumal improvements throughout his career. This was a very risky pick and it could set the franchise back even further. Grade: F
I would have taken: Cameron Jordan

9.  Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith – OT – USC – Top rated OT/15th overall
A predictable pick for the Cowboys, who desperately needed to find a left tackle to protect Tony Romo, but also a risky pick. Smith has a ton of upside and clearly has the athleticism of a left tackle, but I can’t get too excited about taking a player in the top 10 who needs to make a position change. There is a huge difference between playing right tackle in the Pac-10 and playing left tackle in the NFL. I think Smith has the ability to make that transition, but I’m not as confident as I’d like to be when taking a player like this in the top 10. Grade: B
I would have taken: Prince Amukamara

10. Jacksonville Jaguars - Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri – Top rated QB/10th overall
Jaguars GM Gene Smith sure is getting good as surprising us on draft day.  While Gabbert isn’t as polished as your typical top-10 quarterback, I had him as the top rated QB because I believe he has the best blend of raw skills and work ethic. He clearly has NFL arm strength and his accuracy and mobility are both above average. Couple that with his football intelligence and his willingness to put in the hard work necessary to play this position in the NFL, and I think Gabbert could develop into a star in Jacksonville. I also give the Jaguars a lot of credit for looking towards the future rather than taking it one year at a time. It takes a lot of courage to make a selection like this when you’re coming off an 8-8 season, knowing that Gabbert likely won’t contribute in 2011. Grade: A-
I would have taken: Gabbert

11. Houston TexansJ.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin – 4th rated DE/9th overall
I have mixed feelings about this pick. On one hand I had Watt rated among the top 10 players, so clearly he had value here and also fills a position of need. However,  I just don’t think his is a need. Mario Williams and Antonio Smith are both quality 3-4 defensive ends and neither Smith, Williams nor Watt is athletic enough to make the switch to linebacker. With Prince Amukamara on the board and the Texans owning the leagues worst secondary, the decision to select Watt was questionable at best. But as I said, the value was solid, so I can’t mark down their grade too much. Grade: B
I would have taken: Prince Amukamara

12. Minnesota VikingsChristian Ponder – QB – Florida State – 4th rated QB/59th overall
I had Ponder rated ahead of both Newton and Locker, so it could have been worse, but this is still a huge reach for the Vikings. The only positive here is that Ponder is arguably the most NFL ready quarterback in this draft and should be able to handle himself is asked to start right away. At times, Ponder has flashed 1st-round ability but I would be very concerned about his history of arm injuries. His arm strength is only average to begin with, and he has suffered injuries to his throwing arm in each of the past two seasons. Given his arm injuries and limited upside, this appears to be a very short-sighted pick for the Vikings. Grade: F
I would have taken: Cameron Jordan

13.  Detroit Lions - Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn – 2nd rated DT/14th overall
Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh could be a dominant duo, but it’s a risky pairing. They are both athletic, penetrating defensive tackles and it won’t be easy to block both players. However, they are both liabilities against the run, which could become a glaring weakness in Detroit – especially considering their lack of talent at linebacker. Additionally, defensive tackle just wasn’t a need. Corey Williams, more of a run stuffer and nice compliment to Suh, was a solid starter and Sammie Lee Hill seems to be developing nicely in a backup role. While they obviously felt Fairley was just too talented to pass up, Prince Amukamara sure would have looked nice in their very thin secondary. Grade: B+
I would have taken: Prince Amukamara

14.  St. Louis RamsRobert Quinn – DE – North Carolina – 3rd rated DE/8th overall
While I had Cameron Jordan rated higher, Quinn is a perfect fit for the Rams.  They had a decent duo at defensive end last season with Chris Long and James Hall, but neither is a true pass rusher. Quinn has the potential to be a Michael Strahan-like terror on the defensive line and should make an immediate impact in St. Louis. I truly believe he will be a perennial Pro Bowler and should enter the year as an early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Grade: A
I would have taken: Quinn

15.  Miami DolphinsMike Pouncey – G/C – Florida – 2nd rated guard/32nd overall
I like Pouncey, but there’s no question that the success of his brother has led to him becoming one of the more overrated prospects in this year’s draft class. He should be a solid starter, but I don’t expect him to develop into a perennial Pro Bowler like Maurkice. It will be interesting to see where Miami plays him. They could use an upgrade at center, but I believe he’s better suited to play guard. While obviously he wasn’t graded as highly by others, I would have taken Mikel Leshoure here. They need a running back, and I truly believe he is the best in this year’s class. Grade: C+
I would have taken: Mikel Leshoure

16. Washington RedskinsRyan Kerrigan – OLB – Purdue – 7th rated DE/22nd overall
I was surprised when the Redskins passed on a quarterback, but not disappointed. They were one of the few teams with a need at the position that were smart enough not to reach to fill the need.  This wasn’t the most exciting pick of the 1st round, but it does fill a need. Kerrigan will start immediately an should benefit from having Brian Orakpo on the opposite side. Opposing offenses will need to pick their poison and, at least early on, they’ll chose Orakpo which should free up Kerrigan to be a playmaker from day one. The only negative thing I can say about this pick is that they passed on Phil Taylor, who could have filled their gaping hole at nose tackle. Players like Kerrigan and Orakpo are only as good as their defensive line allows them to be. Grade: A-
I would have taken: Phil Taylor

17. New England Patriots - Nate Solder – OT – Colorado – 6th rated OT/63rd overall
Bill Belichick is one of the top draft decision makers in the league, but he’s made his fair share of mistakes and this is one of them.  Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod are all more NFL ready than Solder and would have been safer picks if they were dead set on taking an offensive tackle. Solder probably has the highest upside of the group, but it’s all potential at this point. He is a converted tight end who is still learning the position. It may be two or three years before he’s ready to truly ready to start in the NFL. Grade: F
I would have taken: Gabe Carimi

18. San Diego ChargersCorey Liuget – DE – Illinois – 6th rated DT/23rd overall
I like Liuget, but I’m not sure he’s a great fit in San Diego. I gave him a 1st-round grade as a defensive tackle, but I don’t like him as much as a 3-4 end, which is where he’ll play for the Chargers. He has the size, but lacks the elite athleticism to be anything more than an average starter in that scheme. It certainly isn’t a terrible pick, because I do think he’ll be a decent starter in the system, but there were better options on the board. Cameron Jordan could have played a similar role, but has a much higher ceiling. Grade: B
I would have taken: Cameron Jordan

19. New York GiantsPrince Amukamara – CB – Nebraska – 2nd rated CB/6th overall
This is a brilliant pick by the Giants. Cornerback may not be a glaring need, but it’s not like Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are perennial Pro Bowlers either. Amukamara was simply too good to pass up, and should start immediately in New York. His addition now gives the Giants a very deep secondary with Amukamara, Webster, Ross and Terrell Thomas. Grade: A+
I would have taken: Prince Amukamara

20. Tampa Bay BuccaneersAdrian Clayborn – DE – Iowa – 8th rated DE/26th overall
Based on my overall ranking of Clayborn this wasn’t a huge reach, but it was a poor decision considering who else was on the board.  I do like Clayborn, and gave him a 1st round grade, but Cameron Jordan is significantly better in my opinion. While Clayborn has flashed elite talent, his disappointing senior year is a red flag for me. I expected a lot more considering the talent he was surrounded by on Iowa’s defense. That said, he is still a good fit in Tampa – I simply don’t like the fact that they passed on Jordan, Bowers and Heyward. Grade: B
I would have taken: Cameron Jordan

21.  Cleveland BrownsPhil Taylor – DT – Baylor – 3rd rated DT/19th overall
I like the selection of Taylor for the Browns, but when you factor in what they received in the trade from Atlanta I absolutely love the way the Browns handled day one of the draft.  A lot of people seem to be down on this pick because they envisioned Taylor playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme – but since when can nose tackles only play in one defensive system? There definitely are some character concerns with Taylor, but the Browns have a quality coaching staff as well as some veteran leaders on the defensive side of the ball who can work with him. The Browns were desperate to improve their defensive line, and they landed a true three-down lineman who can be an instant-impact player in Tayor. That said, I still would have taken Cameron Jordan. Grade: A
I would have taken:  Cameron Jordan

22. Indianapolis Colts - Anthony Castonzo – OT – Boston College – 4th rated OT/39th overall
I’m not nearly as high on Castonzo as most, so I felt this was a reach. However, I also think it was a smart move by the Colts.  They’re not looking three or four years down the road, they’re preparing for 2011 and 2012 in hopes of making one last run at a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning at the help. While Castonzo has limited upside and probably will never be a Pro Bowl caliber player, he is an upgrade over Charlie Johnson and should help stabilize the Colts very shaky offensive line. Grade: B
I would have taken: Gabe Carimi

23. Philadelphia Eagles - Danny Watkins – OG – Baylor – 3rd rated OG/33rd overall
First let me say it’s impossible not to like Watkins both as a person and as a player. His interview with Suzy Kolber following his selection was great. However, I’m a little puzzled by this selection. Not only is it a slight reach, but it doesn’t even fill a huge need. They likely could have re-signe Max Jean-Gilles to play right guard, which is where Watkins will most likely step in. If the Eagles weren’t concerned with addressing a need, why not roll the dice on Da’Quan Bowers? Huge upside with very little risk in the late 1st round. Grade: B-
I would have taken: Da’Quan Bowers

24.  New Orleans SaintsCameron Jordan – DE – California – 2nd rated DE/4th overall
Jordan could be the steal of the 1st round. I truly believe he will be an elite player in this league and I’m thrilled that he landed in a 4-3 defense because he is perfect for that system. Due to the Saints depth at the position he may not start immediately, but he will contribute as part of a rotation and will be a Pro Bowl caliber lineman down the road. Grade: A+
I would have taken: Jordan

25.  Seattle SeahawksJames Carpenter – OT – Alabama – 8th rated OT/115th overall
Do I really need to say anything more other than Carpenter was my 115th rated player? I was shocked by this selection, not only because it’s a reach, but because the Seahawks had such a great draft in 2010. They will probably plug Carpenter in at right tackle, a position which was certainly a need, but I’m concerned that he may eventually need to be moved to guard. I can’t understand how anyone could not have Gabe Carimi rated ahead of Carpenter. Carimi has more experience and is a far more polished player than Carpenter. And I’m confident that Carimi will be able to remain at right tackle for a decade – I can’t say the same for Carpenter who will need to control his weight in order to remain at the position. Grade: F
I would have taken: Gabe Carimi

26.  Kansas City Chiefs - Jonathan Baldwin – WR – Pittsburgh – 6th rated WR/48th overall
Baldwin is another confusing reach. Obviously the Chiefs feel as though they need to surround Matt Cassel with more weapons, but this was too early for Baldwin. He clearly has 1st-round talent, but there are legitimate concerns about his “diva attitude”, his work ethic and his effort on the field. And since the Chiefs top receiver Dwayne Bowe has some of the same concerns, I’m not sure this is a smart pairing.  If they were desperate to add a receiver, there were much safer picks available – even if they came with less upside. Grade: D
I would have taken:  Gabe Carimi

27. Baltimore Ravens – Jimmy Smith – CB – Colorado – 3rd rated CB/46th overall
I have serious concerns about Smith’s ability to stay out of trouble, but the Ravens are certainly one of the few capable of handling him. I still can’t say I love the pick, but I’ll give them a much higher grade than I would have if a team such as the Bengals or Lions had taken him in the 1st round due to the Ravens track record. As for his talent, there’s no denying the fact that has starter potential. If he stays out of the police blotter in Baltimore, he’ll a Pro Bowler. Unfortunately that’s a pretty big “if.” Grade: C
I would have taken: Cameron Heyward

28.  New Orleans SaintsMark Ingram – RB – Alabama – 3rd rated RB/45th overall
I don’t think Ingram will be a bust, but I also don’t think he’s a 1st-round talent. He’s been compared to Emmitt Smith, but I’m not buying. Smith had elite vision and incredibly quick feet for his size. Ingram is more of a one-speed, north/south runner and I just don’t think there’s a lot of upside with him. He’s talented, and could be a quality second option if he shares the load with a more athletic runner (Bush maybe?) but I just don’t think he’s worth the 28th pick. I had Mikel Leshoure as the top rated running back and 15th overall. If they wanted a running back, that was they way to go. Grade: C+
I would have taken: Mikel Leshoure

29. Chicago Bears - Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin – 2nd rated OT/17th overall
I’m not shocked that Carimi fell this far, but I am surprised at who was taken ahead of him. The Bears aren’t complaining though, because they get a guy that can be plugged in at right tackle and will immediately improve one of the league’s worst offensive lines.  Carimi may lack the athleticism to play left tackle, which certainly hurt his stock, but he can be an elite right tackle. He has the long arms to make him a great pass protector and the nasty demeanor to excel as run blocker. Both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte should be thrilled with this selection. Grade: A+
I would have taken: Gabe Carimi

30. New York JetsMuhammad Wilkerson – DE – Temple – 5th rated DT/21st overall
With all these teams reaching to fill positions of need, the Jets did a great job just waiting for a great player to fall into their lap. The Jets needed to upgrade the front seven, and a number of quality players fell to them. I would have gone with Cameron Heyward, but perhaps the Jets were scared off after their Vernon Gholston experience. I certainly can’t fault them for going with Wilkerson though, as I had him rated 21st overall. He was one of the most underrated players in this class and should be able to make an instant impact in New York. Grade: A
I would have taken: Cameron Heyward

31. Pittsburgh SteelersCameron Heyward – DE – Ohio State – 5th rated DE/12th overall
Once again the Steelers get great value and fill a hole before it opens up. All three starters on their defensive line are over the age of 30. By adding Heyward now, and with Ziggy Hood already waiting in the wings, they’re prepared to fill those holes as soon as they open up. This strategy has worked for the Steelers time and time again and it’s the reason they haven’t had to truly rebuild in well over a decade. Grade: A+
I would have taken: Heyward

32. Green Bay PackersDerek Sherrod – OT – Mississippi State – 3rd rated OT/30th overall
This is a great value pick for the Packers and, like the Steelers, they did a great job looking towards the future. Sherrod is unlikely to start in 2011, but he’ll eventually take over a starting role once 34-year-old Chad Clifton retires. Either Sherrod or last year’s 1st-round pick, Bryan Bulaga, will take Clifton’s job at left tackle. The other will anchor the right side of the line. While I do like this pick, I probably would have addressed the hole at outside linebacker. Both Akeem Ayers and Brooks Reed would have looked good opposite Clay Matthews. Grade: A-
I would have taken: Brooks Reed

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2011 2 Comments

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Ryan McCrystal

Ryan launched DraftAce in 2004. His Top 100 board is currently ranked 1st out of 20 publications in The Huddle Report's five-year averages. His mock draft is ranked 10th out of 32 competitors.You can also find Ryan's weekly Heisman Predictor series on ESPN Insider every fall.